On the 17th of November 2022, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) sent out a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for applications for a cooperative agreement from qualified entities to implement the BRILLIANT Project. The eligibility for this award was restricted to local entities in African countries.


South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), The African Alliance, Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), Centre for Infectious Disease Research (CIDRZ), Desmond Tutu Health Foundation (DHTF), Institute of Human Virology (IHVN), Joint Clinical Research Centre (JCRC), Kenyan Medical Research Institute/Walter Reed Program Kericho (KEMRI/WRP Kericho, Makerere University Walter Reed Project (MUWRP), National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), University of Zimbabwe Clinical Trials Research Centre (UZ-CTRC), Wits Health Consortium (WHC) co-created a proposal to spearhead vaccine development (including immunogen and adjuvant design and identification of appropriate platforms and delivery mechanisms); conduct preclinical studies to determine the safety, toxicity and immunogenicity of immunogens and adjuvants in animal studies; and finally conduct clinical trials using novel vaccine formulations, adjuvant combinations and delivery methods. This work can only be achieved by building on a foundation of robust community engagement and advocacy, capacity utilization and career pathing (including skills and technology transfer), and reference laboratories that will support immunology and safety studies.


On the 21st of September 2023, the South African Medical Research Council, announced that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) had awarded the BRILLIANT Consortium more than US $45 million (approx. R867 million) to implement the BRILLIANT programme.


The BRILLIANT Consortium (BRinging Innovation to cLinical and Laboratory research to end HIV In Africa through New vaccine Technology), led predominantly by African women scientists, comprises a multi-disciplinary collaboration from Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, and South Africa. The consortium represents the current brain’s trust and future capacity of HIV vaccine research and development in sub-Saharan Africa, with the overall objective of developing and evaluating HIV vaccine candidates emanating from our continent.


The consortium, led by internationally renowned scientists and community experts, has extensive expertise in HIV vaccine and prevention research, HIV therapeutic research including analytical treatment interruption, HIV immunogen discovery, and First in Human (FIH) experimental HIV vaccine research. It will be managed by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), an entity that has the experience and capability to execute HIV-VISTA in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This consortium is supported by a robust network of diverse and far-reaching representative community organizations.


Glenda Gray (SAMRC)
Glenda SAMRC

Professor Glenda Gray

Principal Investigator

Professor Glenda Gray is the president and CEO of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and Co-PI of the NIH-funded HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN). As a Fogarty Fellow, she received training in Clinical Epidemiology at Cornell and Columbia University. Currently, her professional roles include president of the SAMRC, research affiliate to the PHRU, research professor of Pediatrics at the University of the Witwatersrand…

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…member of the Fred Hutch Cancer Center Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division (VIDD) and an adjunct member of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, University of Cape Town. She has published over 300 articles, is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the US National Academy of Sciences, has served on the Global Health Committee and Vaccine Group, and has chaired the Standing Committee on Health in the Academy of Sciences of South Africa. She is a member of the African Academy of Science. She has led the regulatory and ethical framework in sub-Saharan Africa, resulting in more optimal review time in the various countries in the region. She serves as the HVTN Executive Director of African Programs and the PI of the Soweto NIH-clinical trials unit (CTU) that is currently affiliated with five DAIDS HIV/AIDS networks. She has successfully led and has been involved in many large-scale HIV prevention and vaccine trials in South Africa. She initiated the first HIV vaccine trials in South Africa, chaired the HVTN 503/Phambili study (a phase 2b test-of-concept study) and led the development of South Africa’s two HIV vaccine candidates, the SAAVI DNA and MVA.

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Tian Johnson

Co-Principal Investigator (Community Engagement)

Founder and Lead of the African Alliance, queer advocate and member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on the COVID-19 vaccine (MAC) – mandated to develop a COVID-19 vaccine allocation framework for South Africa and provide recommendations to the MAC – Tian has, for nearly two decades, worked on a vast range of development areas with a track record of navigating and influencing policy and community spaces from “grassroots” to “grasstops”…

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…Historically, Tian’s work centered around strengthening community-based and national networks of AIDS service organisations, access to education for girls, the prevention of gender-based violence, creating and sustaining networks of people with HIV and documenting South Africa’s integrated strategy for the prevention of, response to and support for survivors of sexual assault, billed by former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon as a best practice model. While directing a national programme that sought to end rape in all forms of detention, Tian has also focused on inner condom programming and contraceptive access, vaginal microbicide programming models, the intersections of faith and sexual rights and conducted a review of comprehensive sexuality education models in 12 African countries.


Tian managed the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights portfolio of a regional gender justice organisation as well as consulted on work that analyses the monitoring and mitigation of the impact of gender violence and HIV amongst sex workers in addition to co-authoring an analysis of women’s access to paralegal services in the context of HIV and gender-based violence in Sub Saharan Africa. Tian’s work includes setting up inner condom distribution, marketing and training centres in all nine provinces of South Africa as well as working with U.S. diplomatic missions in the region to move partnerships, resourcing and programming priorities further along the road towards gender transformative implementation. Tian currently sits on the Strategic Advisory Group for the Coalition to Accelerate and Support Prevention Research (CASPR) a five year USAID supported project that seeks to build and sustain an Africa-centred network for advancing advocacy, policy, regulatory, community engagement, and communications efforts to accelerate biomedical HIV prevention research.


Tian represents a global group of independent HIV Vaccine advocates, the Vaccine Advocacy Resource Group (VARG) on the African AIDS Vaccine Virtual Network Steering Committee and convenes the VARG globally. The VARG is an independent, advocate led, global team of  AIDS prevention research advocates that play a critical liaison role in the highly complex field of HIV vaccine research. Tian advises on a range of innovative network building and civil society strengthening and accountability interventions in the region and is particularly keen on exploring ways in which civil society is held accountable for ensuring effective awareness, prevention and justice-based responses to sexual harassment within the sector. Tian also serves as the International Observer for Civil Society on the world’s leading international fund focused on funding regional and global networks led by and involving and serving inadequately served populations (ISPs) – The Robert Carr Fund. The fund is a cooperative effort of donors and civil society, structured to maximise participation, empowerment, equity, transparency and accountability in fundraising and grant-making. In 2020, Tian joined the Aidsfonds hosted Hands Off II Advisory Committee to provide expertise in reducing Gender-Based Violence amongst sex workers in Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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Cissy Kityo Mutuluuza

Co-Principal Investigator

Dr Cissy Kityo Mutuluuza, is a medical doctor, Vaccinologist, and Public Health specialist with 31 years’ experience in Health research and HIV clinical care. She is currently the Executive Director of Joint Clinical Research Centre (JCRC) and the Director for the JCRC College of American Pathologists (CAP) certified laboratories with the biggest certified test menu in the region. She has conducted and/or coordinated over 100 research projects and care program grants for HIV…

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…and other health conditions. She was among the pioneers in prescribing ART in sub-Saharan Africa from 1992 and has been at the forefront of scaling up HIV treatment, including fieldwork and extension of antiretroviral therapy (ART) to the districts in Uganda. She has been a Principal Investigator, co-PI or investigator for operational, basic science, clinical, epidemiological and field trials of HIV treatment and associated infections including TB, as well as intervention studies aimed at preventing HIV transmission and preparation for HIV vaccines. She was an investigator and PI for the pioneer HIV Prevention vaccine and HIV Therapeutic trials in sub-Saharan Africa respectively. Many of these pioneering research projects have informed policy and clinical practice in Uganda and other developing countries and paved the way for development of vaccines based on circulating in the region. She is currently the JCRC site PI for the JCRC Clinical Research Site (CRS) of the US NIH AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) network, running for 17 years now at the Centre. She has played a crucial role in the development of the JCRC state-of-the-art clinical and research laboratory equipped to perform a variety of tests and research studies, including molecular biology, HIV drug resistance (HIVDR), Tuberculosis, HIV vaccine trials, pharmacokinetic studies, clinical, and epidemiological research among others. She serves as an executive member on various local and international scientific committees in HIV research, prevention and treatment and has been providing mentorship to both local and international scientists who come to Uganda. She has been involved in HIV vaccine trials since 1999 as an investigator in the first HIV Prevention vaccine in sub-Saharan Africa and currently exploring vaccine responses in Ugandans in comparison to the US.

Dr. Betty Mwesigwa (MUWRP)

Betty Mwesigwa

Co-Principal Investigator

Betty Mwesigwa is a Ugandan medical doctor with a bachelor’s degree in medicine and surgery from Makerere University and an MSc. in Clinical Trials from the University of London/London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She has over ten (10) years of working experience in infectious diseases clinical research. She has been involved with HIV care and management, HIV prevention, remission and cure research…

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…including an HIV therapeutic monoclonal antibody trial and several HIV longitudinal prospective cohort studies. In the last 3 years, she has been involved in the conduct of early-phase Ebola vaccine clinical trials.  She has been the principal investigator of 2 (completed enrolment) Ebola vaccine trials testing heterologous regimes of Ebola candidate vaccines targeting the Zaire and Sudan strains of the virus.  She is the site principal investigator for an HIV cure sample collection protocol under the HOPE Collaboratory for HIV cure research and also PI for an HIV/STI multi-centre observational cohort study (the MOCHI study) observing for incidence and host viral immune response interactions.  As the Deputy Executive Director and member of the executive management committee for Makerere University Walter Reed Project (MUWRP), she oversees the scientific and research strategy, including sourcing and forming new collaborations and partnerships, overseeing grants proposal writing processes, designing and reviewing study protocols, strategically engaging communities for research (including policymakers, advocacy groups, community advisory boards and research communities). Over the years, she has successfully contributed to the research programme at MUWRP in the capacities of the principal investigator, sub–investigator, and clinical research manager responsible for ensuring timely, efficient implementation of several research protocols to the highest ethical standards and study medical officer.


She has been involved in the provision of holistic care and management to HIV infected. She holds a strategic and oversight function for the comprehensive HIV care and treatment DoD/WRAIR PEPFAR funded program that is implemented by MUWRP. She has served as a co-investigator on a pragmatic PrEP demonstration study among adolescent girls and young women.  She serves as a key opinion leader for the Sabin Vaccine Institute and has participated in key opinion leader meetings discussing regulatory harmonisation for licensure of filovirus vaccine products. She also holds nine (9) years of working experience in pharmaceutical medicine, having worked within the pharmaceutical sector in the United Kingdom. She is the Clinical Research Site Coordinator at MUWRP for DAIDS-sponsored studies. Her research interests remain in the area of vaccinology of infectious diseases, including HIV, emerging and re-emerging infections, clinical research to include research in non-communicable and neglected tropical diseases, and in developing sustainable capacity for collaborative management of infections through solicitation for funding, policy advocacy and development. This background, experience and current position at MUWRP make her well-qualified to perform the roles and responsibilities assigned under the HIV-VISTA programme as part of the BRILLIANT Consortium.

Linda-Gail Bekker (DTHF)
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Dr Linda-Gail Bekker

Co-Principal Investigator

Linda-Gail Bekker, MBChB, DTMH, DCH, FCP (SA), PhD, is the Director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre, University of Cape Town, and Chief Executive Officer of the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation. She is an infectious disease specialist and professor of Medicine at the University of Cape Town and an A1 SA NRF-rated physician-scientist. Following her doctoral studies in clinical and immunological studies of HIV and TB

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…Bekker co-founded and now leads a large research organization with sites in the Western and Eastern Cape. She is PI of the NIH (USA) funded UCT Clinical trials unit, which conducts clinical research on behalf of the HIV vaccine trials network, the HIV Prevention trials network and the AIDS clinical trials group. She is a co-PI in the PATC3H-IN network and has served on the Fogarty-funded Adolescent and HIV Implementation Science Alliance since its inception. Bekker’s research interests include clinical, programmatic and health service research in HIV treatment and prevention, tuberculosis, and sexually transmitted infections and conduct research in diverse populations, including adolescents, pregnant and breastfeeding women and LGBTQ populations. These populations are reached in well-established, internationally renowned clinical research sites capable of conducting phase 1-4 trials, including first in human, experimental medicine and specialized trials. Bekker has worked closely with many African and international collaborators and has a long-standing collaborative relationship, particularly in the field of vaccinology, with Professor Gray and the SA MRC and Bekker recently co-led the Sisonke pragmatic phase 3B study to provide SARS-CoV-2 immunization to 500 000 healthcare workers with Dr. Gray and Garrett. Bekker has an H-rating of 106 (Google scholar) and has co-authored more than 600 peer-reviewed publications. The DTHF has run a capacity-building program for African researchers in partnership with IAVI since 2017 and has a NIH D43 funded PhD program in the Eastern Cape. Bekker spearheaded and chaired the CIPHER initiative of the International AIDS Society whilst she was president from 2016-2018 to promote African paediatric research. She is co-chair of the R4P conference in Lima in 2024

Community Engagement and Advocacy Leadership

The Alliance Alliance leads the Consortium’s Community Engagement and Advocacy pillar in partnership with our two co-leads, Martha Tholanah (GALZ, Zimbabwe) and Stephen Mugamba (Makerere University Walter Reed Project, Uganda).


Martha Tholanah

Co-Chair: The Aids Clinical Trials Group: Community Scientific Subcommittee (ACTG CSS)

CAB Member: University of Zimbabwe- Clinical Trials Research Centre (UZ-CTRC)

Martha Tholanah is a Zimbabwean woman, currently based in Harare. She is a recipient of the 2015 David Kato Vision & Voice Award, the 2016 Elizabeth Taylor Human Rights Award, and the 2016 ACTG Community Impact Award (now ACTG Sharon Maxwell Community Impact Award). She is an advocate for access to health (particularly SRHR), prevention of VAWG/ GBV, clinical research literacy, LGBTQI+, disability and HIV issues. She is a Community Advisory Board (CAB) member for AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) studies at the University of Zimbabwe Clinical Trials Research Center (UZ-CTRC), Sub-Saharan CAB member for the AIDS Malignancies Consortium (AMC), and CAB member for University of Zimbabwe Collaborative Clinical Research Centre (UZ-CRC).


Martha is currently the ACTG Community Scientific Subcommittee co-chair. Martha serves voluntary roles as Advocacy Associate for Making Waves, and member of the What Works 2 Independent Advisory Board. She also supports grant management for global south SRHR civil society organisations supported by AmplifyChange.


Stephen Mugamba

Community Co-Lead: BRILLIANT Consortium

Community Engagement Manager: Makerere University Walter Reed Project

A Ugandan Community Engagement advocate and practitioner with over 15 years’ state-of-the-art experience in the design and implementation of innovative interventions towards community accountability in the conduct of HIV Vaccine clinical trials and health services programs. In an effort to streamline stakeholders’ engagement in research, he played a pivot role in reviewing the Good Participatory Practices (GPP) guidelines for biomedical research and has subsequently undertaken both physical and online trainings in GPP including the GPP Leadership Course where he recently graduated as part of the 2022 Class.


For 13 years, he has been a member of the Steering Committee for the Cross-CAB Network in Uganda and is also a founder member and member of the Leadership Team for the Coalition on Health Financing for Research and Development (COFHRED). In addition to Financing for research advocacy, Stephen currently serves on the Gilead Global Community Accountability Group (G-CAG) for the PURPOSE 1 (Lenacapivir-PrEP Injectable)…

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…Clinical Trial conducted in Uganda and South Africa. A key member of a number of research advocacy groups both at local and global levels, including the Vaccine Interest Group in Uganda (VIG) and recently the Gladstone HOPE Collaboratory HIV Cure research stakeholder engagement team that is advocating for the “Block-Lock-Excise” alternative tactic.

Under this project, our role will be to:


  1. Work with the BRILLIANT Consortium CE experts, CABs, Community gatekeepers, researchers, decision-makers and opinion leaders to advance meaningful community engagement in HIV Vaccine Discovery work
  2. Engage governments and political structures in SSA, Regulators and ethics committees in the target countries, Non-government organisations (NGOs) and advocacy groups (For research relevance and building policy frameworks)
  3. Strengthen collaboration with the intentionally inadequately served populations, specifically focusing on youth, Adolescent Girls and Young Women, Sex workers, MSMs and the LGBTQ communities in the eight consortium countries. (Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa)